Night vision for bird- and bat-friendly offshore wind power

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s ThermalTracker software analyzes thermal video to help birds and bats near offshore wind farms. Three birds are seen flying offshore in this screenshot of the thermal video that PNNL’s software analyzes. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The same technology that enables soldiers to see in the dark can also help protect birds and bats near offshore wind turbines.


Night vision goggles use thermal imaging, which captures infrared light that’s invisible to the human eye. Now, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are using thermal imaging to help birds and bats near . PNNL is developing software called ThermalTracker to automatically categorize birds and bats in thermal video. Birds and bats fly over offshore waters, but they’re difficult to track in such remote locations.

“ThermalTracker can help developers and regulators make informed decisions about siting and operating offshore wind projects,” said PNNL engineer Shari Matzner, who leads ThermalTracker’s development. “We need scientific tools like this to better understand how can coexist with birds and bats.”

The software can help determine if there are many birds or bats near an offshore wind project and if they could be affected by the project. If that’s the case, officials can consider adjusting the location of a proposed project or modifying an existing project’s operations.

Biologists at the non-profit Biodiversity Research Institute are testing the system this summer to determine how well it identifies birds compared to their field observations in Maine, one of the states considering offshore wind power.

“This is an extraordinary collaboration between technology developers,…

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